As the Vedic rishis sat in the serene foothills of the Himalayas, thousands of years ago, they meditated upon the mysteries of the Universe – the Unknown, the Brahman. Their silent minds were in complete synchronicity with the world around them – a unique unison of mind and matter. In this heightened state of Cosmic consciousness answers floated into their enlightened senses as shrutis or latent sound bytes. This was the origin of the Vedas. The mind was the laboratory and the Universal truth the subject. This is how the Unknown, Brahman revealed itself as the first shabd or word.
■■ The Maitri Upanishad  VI.22 explains this shabd as arising from a-shabd or non-sound. It says :-
And it has been said, there are verily, two Brahmans to be meditated upon – sound and non-sound. By sound alone is the non-sound revealed….
Shabd not only means the ‘spoken word’ but it also carries with it the eternal quality of the non-sound. This can be understood as ‘memes’, a concept put forth by Richard Dawkins . He says words, besides pronunciation, carry abstract ideas and together he calls them ‘memes’. These ‘memes’ are “cultural transmission units” that go from memory to memory down the generations – just like the passing on of the genes.
Guru Nanak Dev in his teachings calls this the shabad . He has taken the ‘a’ sound of the negative prefix and incorporated it in the word itself , for he explains :-
shabad is the first sound, the first utterance
that created the universe, that was created with the universe
it is the discourse of the Guru
it explains and discerns, it articulates and animates
the eternal Truth of forms and concepts…
The larger concept of sound is referred to as the vaani . It includes not only words but also rhythm (or meter) and tune. Speech is referred to as vaak in the Rig Veda ; at I.164.41 in this Veda vaak is likened to Gauri the benign Cow Goddess. As the cow walks about its many gaits so does speech take on various meters and forms, helping in the fashioning of words and in the spreading of the milk of happiness out into the conscious world.